Donna McKeever is an artist of a craft that has drifted into obscurity: She is a rug braider.
While the practice of the craft may be relatively rare, McKeever said people’s memories of the craft are plentiful, with many who encounter her work talking fondly of grandmothers or other relatives who would braid.
McKeever first began braiding 24 years ago and has been teaching for 16 years, since she and her family first moved to Gig Harbor.
“I just fell in love with the craft,” she said. “I like the teaching aspect as much as I love braiding.”
There’s more to rug braiding than people think. People like the look of it, but they also like the art form.
Working with wool fabrics, McKeever braids her rugs in all shapes and sizes, from giant oval and round rugs to less traditional shapes featuring corners and angles. She’s also expanded beyond rugs, constructing baskets, a booster seat, an ottoman, a hat and even a Christmas tree from wool braids.
“There’s more to rug braiding than people think,” McKeever said. “People like the look of it, but they also like the art form.”
McKeever teaches rug braiding classes from her home, four students at a time, beginning with the basics of rug braiding and providing her students with everything they need to know to construct basic rugs, including supplies.
The wool McKeever uses in her work is difficult to find and often not available in everyday craft stores, which is why she stockpiles the fabric whenever she can find it and frequently sells it to her students and other braiders for their projects.
You have such a beautiful thing at the end and you’re so proud of it because you did it from start to finish.
“You’re not going to walk into a craft store and find rug braiding supplies,” she said. “Wool’s hard to find. There’s not many mills in the U.S. that make wool anymore. This is the most wool you’ll find in the area in one place.”
McKeever often showcases her work during local craft fares, but she’s more interested in attracting new students that she is in selling her rugs. That is how Kathy McMillan discovered rug braiding in 2007, after her husband spotted McKeever’s work and called her over.
“I haven’t stopped braiding since,” McMillan said. “You have such a beautiful thing at the end and you’re so proud of it because you did it from start to finish.”
McMillan has been braiding for so long that she’s been recruited by McKeever to teach beginner classes at the National Rug Braider’s Conference, hosted by McKeever in Gig Harbor from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.
The conference will feature braiders from around the U.S., a collection of McKeever’s and McMillan’s work, rug braiding classes for all ability levels and even McMillan’s extensive wool collection for those braiders interested in purchasing new material.
I have met a ton of really great women with rug braiding. It’s not just your grandma’s craft anymore.
“I have met a ton of really great women with rug braiding,” McKeever said. “It’s not just your grandma’s craft anymore.”
McKeever’s beginner class teaches students the basics of rug braiding and provides them the materials and tools needed to complete a 2 x 3 foot rug.
“I like doing something that’s different. I like being creative with my hands,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years there’s an art with rug braiding. It gives me satisfaction.”
Anyone interested in McKeever’s braiding classes or the conference can call 253-853-4583, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit rugbraiders.com.